It’s one thing to visit the imprisoned, to give counsel and offer help in their rehabilitation. But the Piedmont Wind Symphony, directed by Matthew Troy, has set about helping the community in a different way.
“Part of our mission [is] to show that classical music isn’t just for an upper echelon of people,” Troy said. “We have a very diverse crowd and following and we aim to continue making our concerts available to music fans across the board. Music is for everyone.”
A brass ensemble made up of members of the Piedmont Wind Symphony played a private concert for inmates at the Forsyth County jail on Sunday. In collaboration with local business owner and arts activist Tommy Priest, Troy has begun expanding what has long been considered the normal realms of classical music by opening the doors and making classical music accessible to all.
“This stems out of the Community Innovation Lab,” Priest said. “We’ve been taking a new approach to bringing arts to the community, and thinking of ways of making a more abundant and equitable Winston-Salem, and using artistic practice as a means to do so.”
The concert at the jail took more than 11 months of planning and preparation, getting through the red tape of county officials’ approval and proper paper to make the event happen.
“Tommy and I began the conversation last year after seeing Blitz the Ambassador in Durham,” Troy said. “He just had this amazing way of bring such diversity to his music and to the arts and we just found ourselves asking, ‘How can we do this?’”
With seed grants available and the Forsyth County Jail open to the concert, things began to move in a way that seemed larger than just an ordinary concert.
“Our goal is not to tear down the system, or to change the world all at once,” Priest said. “Things just don’t work that way. We’ve found ourselves working with the system that is in place. And this concert was a point of entry into a very difficult and complex system.”
The concert was closed to the public and to press. Meghan Parsons, the executive director of the symphony, said county officials restricted access to avoid placing an unnecessary strain on security personnel.
“It was unlike anything,” Priest said, recalling the concert. “It was over 100 inmates who came to listen and see the performance, and just the energy, the weight of it all was so moving. It was a moment of complete and utter gratitude on every side of the event. The emotion of it all was amazing. By far this was one of the best things I’ve ever experienced.”
In addition to the Piedmont Wind Symphony performing their set, the concert featured the Cherry Street Ensemble, a group of inmates who play music in the jail.
“These are a group of forgotten people,” Troy said. “They have been ostracized and literally forgotten by the community. And when they get released back into society, they have a mark on their back forever. We wanted to take a moment, that evening, create something beautiful, provide hope, provide humanity, and give the hope for second chances.”
In addition to this concert, the symphony has started donating season tickets to newly released ex-cons as a way to welcome them back to the outside and inviting them into a space where they may not otherwise feel welcome.
From jazz and ragtime to religious hymns and formal classical compositions, the concert was grounded in an ecumenical approach.
“Seeing the Cherry Street Ensemble’s yearning and gratitude for being able to play alongside was amazing,” Troy said. “It augments what we have done in the past. We played with the Wailers last season, and just witnessing the diversity and accessibility of music for the crowd really moved me. We brought together a group of people that might otherwise never have happened.”
The 2017-18 season for the Piedmont Wind Symphony opens of Oct. 20, with a fundraising pre-season opener on Sept. 23, in collaboration with Wiseman Brewing in Winston-Salem.
“Our goal is to tear down the stigmas that surround much of our community, that surround classical music, as a means of truly bringing people together,” Troy said. “That is the ideology behind it, but it’s that same thing that you can never quite attain. But we are always expanding and will never stop reaching for it. Music is the connector in that. Music is for everyone.”
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